Birds in Small Spaces

Wildlife organizations are looking for innovative ways to keep birds out of bottles and cages.

Animal cruelty has reached a new low. An Indonesian smuggler boarded a passenger ship with Yellow-crested Cockatoos and one Green Parrot stuffed into plastic water bottles—alive. By the time he stepped onto land in Surabaya, Indonesia, he was in police custody, with a potential sentence of five years in prison. The freed birds were handed over to the Indonesia’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency.

It’s good to see such quick action against the illegal animal trade, especially since the biggest threat to Yellow-crested Cockatoos is poaching. The bird is endemic to a few of Indonesia's islands and is critically endangered, with only around 7,000 in the wild, thanks to the pet trade and deforestation. Smuggling affects one-third (3,337) of all bird species; eight percent of those species are globally threatened. And the problem is only getting worse. Between 1988 and 2008, 225 species have seen their status on  the  Red List IndexZ—which measures extinction risk—get worse. In the same two-decade span, only 32 have seen their status improve.

To crack down on animal smuggling, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is holding a Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge. They’re looking for technologies that can detect transit routes, collect forensic evidence, reduce consumer demand, and on a broader level, tackle corruption. Tech that analyzes everything from DNA to bank accounts is fair game. Anyone can enter, says Megan Hill, a Natural Resources Management Specialist at USAID. “[W]e expect to get concept notes that are very varied, from both the high-tech end but also from the basement innovator with a good idea that needs to be developed and tested.”

In the meantime, be careful when buying birds as pets. It’s difficult to tell if animals in pet shops are the products of safe breeding, the bird-advocacy organization Born Free USA says. If stats aren’t enough to ward you off, take a look at this photo series by photographer Oliver Regueiro that documents the recovery of exotic pet birds. All this evidence stacks up to one thing: The best way to see birds is in their natural habitats.